The Times of Israel liveblogged Tuesday’s events as they happened.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a bill formally suspending the last remaining nuclear arms treaty with the United States, amid soaring tensions with Washington over Moscow’s action in Ukraine.
Putin had declared a week ago in his state-of-the-nation address that Moscow was suspending its participation in the 2010 New START treaty. He had charged that Russia can’t accept US inspections of its nuclear sites under the pact at a time when Washington and its NATO allies have openly declared Russia’s defeat in Ukraine as their goal.
Both houses of parliament quickly ratified Putin’s bill on the pact’s suspension last week. On Tuesday, Putin signed it into law, effective immediately. The document says that it’s up to the president to decide whether Moscow could return to the pact.
Putin has emphasized that Moscow was not withdrawing from the pact altogether, and the Russian Foreign Ministry said the country would respect the caps on nuclear weapons set under the treaty and keep notifying the US about test launches of ballistic missiles.
On Monday, a top US arms control official strongly criticized Russia for suspending its participation in the treaty, but noted that Washington will try to work with Moscow to continue its implementation.
US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides claps back at Diaspora Affairs Minister Amichai Chikli, who told the envoy last week to “mind his own business” after Nides called on the Israeli government to “pump the brakes” on its controversial plan to overhaul the judiciary.
“Some Israeli official — I don’t know who he is, I don’t think I’ve met him — suggested that I should stay out of Israel’s business,” Nides says during a live interview at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv.
“I really think that most Israelis do not want America to stay out of their business,” he says to applause.
The ambassador reiterates his call for the coalition to “slow down a little bit” and “try to build some consensus,” rather than ramming its proposals through the Knesset. Nides points out that President Isaac Herzog has made the same request as well.
He highlights the importance of maintaining a strong judiciary amid the government’s effort to weaken the High Court of Justice. “Last week, when we were defending the State of Israel at the UN, one of the things we always harkened back at is that what we have in common these institutions… and values. That’s what brings us together.”
“Make no mistake,” Nides continues. “We stand by Israel. We work with Israel. It’s a very beautiful democracy. And [that’s] been shown every day, in every way, and it will continue.”
Former attorney general Avichai Mandelblit says the government’s proposals to remake the judicial system are not a simple reform but rather a fundamental change in Israel’s system of governance that must be rejected.
Mandelblit tells an audience at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv that negotiations over the contours of the legislation should be preconditioned on a total halt to “this legislative abomination,” employing some of the strongest language yet used by a former top judicial official against the government’s plans.
“So long as these proposals advance, there’s nothing to talk about and it won’t be right to talk to them,” he says, seemingly backing the opposition’s demand for a freeze ahead of any compromise talks.
“If they pass, even one of them, there won’t be anything to talk about and we’ll rely… on the attorney general and High Court to defend the bastion,” of democracy, he says.
He says his successor Gali Baharav-Miara and the court don’t just have the right, but the obligation, to strike down “any law that will void Israel’s liberal democratic system of governance.”
The Israeli general in charge of troops in the West Bank says vigilante settlers rampaging through a Palestinian town Sunday night carried out a “pogrom,” catching the military off-guard.
GOC Central Command Maj. Gen. Yehuda Fuchs also tells Hebrew-language media that he is worried clashes between soldiers and settlers will eventually lead to Israelis being killed, accusing the Jewish extremists of “spreading terror.”
Fuchs says troops were prepared for small-scale disturbances Sunday night following a deadly terror attack near Nablus earlier in the day, expecting groups of settlers to protest at junctions and throw stones at Palestinian cars.
Instead, dozens of people ran riot through Huwara and other nearby towns, leaving one Palestinian dead and several others injured, as well as torching homes and cars.
“What happened in Huwara was a pogrom carried out by law-breakers,” he tells Channel 12 news. “We were not ready for a pogrom on the scale of dozens of people with flammable material and the means to set it on fire, heading to 20 or more places — as well as confronting soldiers and commanders and police at the junction — and setting random Palestinian homes and cars on fire.”
“We were not prepared for that many people, how they came, the scale, the force of the violence they used, and the planning they had carried out,” he adds.
While taking responsibility for the army’s inability to stanch Palestinian terror, he slams vigilantism among settlers trying to deal with the issue themselves.
“This is not a case of ‘taking the law into their own hands.’ Because law-abiding people do not spread terror among a population and don’t throw stones at people randomly,” he says.
He notes that a fight between settlers and soldiers Monday night could have turned deadly, and worries that a future incident will lead to bloodshed.
“Last night, we almost had fatalities in a two-way incident in which [IDF troops] opened fire [when they felt under threat by a group of extremist settlers],” he says.
Fuchs also says that security coordination with the Palestinian Authority is indeed frozen.
A message sent to Hebrew-language media in the name of an unnamed “senior Likud source” claims that the party believes disputes over the state budget will be quickly put to bed.
The source describes the outstanding disagreements as “small funding gaps that will be dealt with in coming days.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also seemingly responds to grumbling within the coalition over budget allotments, which has led to two ministers moving toward tendering resignations this week.
“We created a strong right-wing government and it will complete its term,” he says.
The comment may also be aimed at rebuffing claims that the premier is negotiating the creation of an alternative government with center-left partners in order to shed his far-right allies.
The UN nuclear watchdog says Iran’s estimated stockpile of enriched uranium has reached more than 18 times the limit set out in the 2015 accord between Tehran and world powers.
According to a confidential International Atomic Energy Agency report seen by AFP, it estimated Iran’s total enriched uranium stockpile was 3,760.8 kilograms (8,291 pounds) as of February 12. The limit in the 2015 deal was set at 202.8 kilograms (447 pounds) of uranium.
It also confirms the presence of uranium particles enriched to just below 90 percent.
The US is accusing Israel of failing to prevent attacks by settlers in the West Bank, including the charge in the State Department’s annual report on terrorism released this week.
The report is the latest expression of US frustration with Israel’s failure to crackdown on settler violence following the deadly rampage that took place in Huwara over the weekend.
“Israeli security personnel often did not prevent settler attacks and rarely detained or charged perpetrators of settler violence,” the report states, pointing to just one settler convicted for throwing a stun grenade at a Palestinian home and being sentenced to 20 months in jail.
The chapter on Israel and the Palestinian Territories, which was released along with reports on other countries, covers 2021 and was penned well before Sunday’s mob spree through Huwara, which came after a Palestinian gunman killed Israeli brothers driving through the city.
The report notes that attacks by settlers were on the rise in 2021.
“UN monitors documented 496 Israeli settler attacks against Palestinians, including 370 attacks that resulted in property damage, and 126 attacks that resulted in casualties, three of which were fatal. This is an increase from the 358 settler attacks UN OCHA documented in 2020, 84 of which resulted in casualties,” the report says.
The report noted condemnations from the previous Israeli government as well as proposals to reform police in order to better address the issue, while lamenting the lack of follow-through.
The Israel Defense Forces says it will hold a preplanned drill in the West Bank tomorrow.
The exercise will begin Wednesday morning and last through the afternoon hours, according to the IDF.
It will involve troops of the Binyamin, Yehuda, and Etzion territorial brigades.
The army notifies residents that they may see increased security forces in the area amid the drill, which comes as tensions in the area have ramped up in recent days
According to the IDF, the drill is preplanned, meaning it did not stem from new developments.
National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir is rebuking Berlin after Germany’s foreign minister warned Israel against implementing a death penalty for terror convicts.
“The last ones who should be preaching to us are the Germans,” he is quoted saying by the Ynet news website. “They should think 1,000 times before talking about Israel’s right to defend itself.”
Annalena Baerbock, after talks with her Israeli counterpart Eli Cohen in Berlin, said earlier in the day that “we consider particularly worrying the plan to introduce” capital punishment.
“We are firmly opposed to the death penalty, and we are raising this issue all over the world,” she told a press conference alongside Cohen.
Baerbock noted Germans learn in school that Israel — although “threatened like no other country by terrorism” — has not carried out any executions since 1962, when Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann was hanged.
“That has always been an impressive argument for those of us who have defended Israel on the international stage against unfair criticism,” she said. “I am convinced that it would be a big mistake to break with this history.”
Ben Gvir says that given a recent uptick in terror incidents, a capital punishment law is needed now.
“This is moral, logical and the order of the hour,” he says.
The law, part of a coalition agreement reached between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Ben Gvir states that someone who kills an Israeli citizen “out of racism or hostility to their group… and aiming to harm the State of Israel and the renewal of the Jewish people in their land, shall be sentenced to death, and this penalty only.”
The coalition agreed on Sunday to back the measure, paving its way to go through the Knesset.
AFP contributed to this post.
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant says calls for senior officers to refuse to serve in the military’s reserves harm Israel’s security, amid protests by reservist soldiers over the government’s judicial overhaul plans.
Speaking to reservist troops in the West Bank today, Gallant says “any call for refusal harms Israel’s security.”
“No one is allowed to use the unit’s symbol, the IDF symbol, or the Israeli flag in order to justify one side. Under no circumstances are we to urge refusal, anywhere, in any sector, in any corps, and in any unit,” Gallant says in remarks provided by his office.
His remarks come after reservist troops of numerous units called for officers to refuse to volunteer over the government’s radical plans to overhaul the judicial system.
In a recent meeting with the IDF’s top brass, military chief Herzi Halevi says he is aware of the controversy over the overhaul plans, but will not allow it to affect the army’s “ability to carry out its missions.”
National Union party leader Benny Gantz says far-right minister Bezalel Smotrich and others in the government are cheering on the chaos in the West Bank, predicting that it will lead to ruin.
“Smotrich wants another Nakba,” he tells Army Radio, referring to the Palestinian term for their mass displacement during Israel’s War of Independence. “To him, an escalation [in violence] is a good thing.”
The former defense minister says he is “disturbed” by the support settlers who rampaged through the Palestinian town of Huwara have received, describing those responsible as a “militia with backing from some coalition figures.”
“This is a very dangerous slope, one that cannot be allowed to stand,” he tells Radio 103 in a separate interview. “You don’t do things like this. We only have one army. Setting the ground on fire doesn’t seem to me the safest way to go.”
On the judicial overhaul, he warns Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that “when you cause a rift in the nation on a matter seen as essential, there are consequences.”
Gantz also denies a claim that Netanyahu apparatchik Natan Eshel is in talks with him and Lapid to form an alternate unity government.
“It’s nothing but spin. Just all malarkey. Netanyahu needs to stop the legislative process, [then] we can meet,” he tells Radio 103.
A devastating earthquake that struck Turkey and Syria killed more than 50,000 people, in a toll revised by AFP that includes figures from both government and rebel-controlled parts of war-torn Syria.
A total of 5,951 people were killed across Syria, while Turkey recorded 44,374 deaths after the February 6 earthquake.
The new tally brings to 50,325 the total number of deaths caused by the disaster across both countries.
The Syrian government said 1,414 people had been killed in areas under its control, while Turkish-backed officials in Syria have put the death toll at 4,537 throughout rebel-held areas of the country.
The toll in areas outside government control includes deaths in territory held by rival rebel groups.
Local authorities relied on data collected from hospitals, medical centers and civil defense in Idlib and northern Aleppo province, health official Maram al-Sheikh tells AFP.
They also included civilian sources, he says, many of whom buried their dead without taking them to the hospital.
The toll was finalized with help from the Assistance Coordination Unit organization, a local United Nations partner.
US Special Representative for Palestinian Affairs Hady Amr is visiting the Palestinian town of Huwara in the northern West Bank to observe the extent of the damage caused by a deadly settler rampage.
Amr “expressed his deepest condolences and condemned the unacceptable widescale, indiscriminate violence by settlers” and is “extremely concerned by recent escalating violence in the West Bank,” his office says in a statement.
“We want to see full accountability and legal prosecution of those responsible for these heinous attacks and compensation for those who lost property or were otherwise affected,” adds the US Office of Palestinian Affairs.
A 37-year-old man was killed, 300 people were injured — four seriously — and dozens of vehicles and buildings were torched in the riot on Sunday night that followed the terror shooting of two Israeli brothers who were driving through the city’s main road.
Senior United Torah Judaism lawmaker Meir Porush has resigned his government role as the minister overseeing the annual Jewish pilgrimage to Mount Meron, amid Haredi political protests over a lack of government support for ultra-Orthodox budgetary requests.
In a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Porush says he made the decision due to a lack of authority, claiming that the annual event, which draws hundreds of thousands to a northern shrine for a single night, was being organized by an outside firm which he had no role in choosing.
The Kikar Hashabbat news website reports that Porush is also considering quitting the cabinet. His letter notes that he only agreed to become a minister because of a legal ruling that only a minister could oversee the Meron pilgrimage.
The pilgrimage was the scene of Israel’s worst-ever civilian disaster in 2021, when 45 people were killed in a crush caused by overcrowding on a faulty walkway.
The announcement comes as Haredi parties have expressed anger over a lack of budget earmarks for Haredi education and public transportation in areas where many ultra-Orthodox people live.
An unnamed lawmaker from UTJ tells Army Radio that he may vote against the budget.
Two Israelis are lightly hurt after Palestinians allegedly hurl stones at their vehicle in the West Bank town of Huwara, medics say.
According to the Rescuers Without Borders emergency service, the cousin of terror victims Hallel and Yagel Yaniv was driving through the town when he was attacked.
Two hitchhiking Israelis in the backseat are lightly hurt by glass fragments, the service says.
At a Knesset Health Committee meeting discussing legislation allowing hospitals to ban hametz foods from hospitals during Passover, Yesh Atid MK Elazar Stern warns Haredi colleagues pushing for the bill that it will result in more people purposely bringing in unleavened food to defy the regulations.
“I think this will have the opposite effect… I don’t think this is the time,” he says.
United Torah Judaism MK Moshe Gafni, who is sponsoring the bill, claims that the bill won’t force religious proscriptions on anyone, but rather return a “status quo” removed by a court ruling that forbade the practice of banning foods that religious Jews avoid on Passover.
“A Jew cannot vote against this,” he adds, drawing protests from lawmakers Yulia Malinovsky and Vladimir Beliok, of Yisrael Beytenu and Yesh Atid respectively, who ask if that means they are not Jews.
Committee head Ariel Busso of Shas, who backs the bill, claims that Haredi parties have no interest in passing laws to do with religion, but are being forced to by the courts.
“We just want to return to the situation there was before the court’s decision,” he says, referring to a 2020 ruling ending the practice of banning hametz. “This is a proposal from a community that keeps the status quo and allows mutual respect between people. Everything is consensual, nobody is forcing anything on anyone, no fines will be given, guards won’t search bags or cars, and nobody is checking what people eat at home.”
The bill’s language requires any hospital that advertises itself as kosher to keep out unleavened food during Passover.
In a legal opinion, two advisers from the Attorney General’s Office warned last week that the bill “as it is written today raises significant legal difficulties,” as it would not only ban leavened foods but all foods, save for fresh produce and packaged foods marked “kosher for Passover,” which would infringe on the rights of patients and their guests — and, because it would force hospital security guards to do something they were not hired to do by conducting searches for contraband food, infringe on their rights as well.
The Israel Defense Forces says a group of settlers assaulted soldiers who attempted to stop them from hurling stones at Palestinian vehicles in the West Bank earlier today.
According to the IDF, troops were dispatched to the scene near the town of al-Mughayyir after receiving a report of stones being hurled at Palestinian-owned cars.
“When forces arrived at the scene, they identified a number of suspects, some of them masked, hurling stones at a Palestinian truck,” the IDF says.
The IDF says the troops fired into the air, but the suspects refused to disperse.
The troops then used tear gas against the group, and in response, one suspect kicked a soldier and maced a police officer with pepper spray, according to the IDF.
He was detained along with four other suspects, and handed over to police for further questioning.
The incident comes amid a series of violent incidents by settlers against Israeli troops in the West Bank, and following major riots in the Palestinian town of Huwara.
Lawmakers have taken a tangible step toward addressing skyrocketing rental prices in Israel, for themselves at least.
The Knesset’s House Committee votes to approve giving MKs who live outside the capital an extra NIS 1,284 ($350) a month to pay rent on an apartment in Jerusalem, upping it from NIS 3,316 ($905) to NIS 4,600 (1,256).
The average price of a two-bedroom rental in Jerusalem was NIS 4,103 at the end of 2022, according to the latest figures from the Central Bureau of Statistics. That’s up from NIS 3,925 at the start of 2021.
Successive governments have repeatedly promised to address swiftly rising real estate prices, but have taken few serious steps beyond a series of short-lived housing lottery programs.
A flurry of drone attacks last night and this morning target regions inside Russia along the border with Ukraine and deeper into the country, with one drone crashing just 100 kilometers (60 miles) away from Moscow, according to local Russian authorities.
A drone fell near the village of Gubastovo, roughly 100 kilometers southeast of Moscow, Andrei Vorobyov, governor of the region surrounding the Russian capital, says in an online statement.
The drone didn’t inflict any damage, Vorobyov says. He doesn’t specifically describe the drone as Ukrainian, but says that it likely targeted “a civilian infrastructure object.”
Russian forces early today shot down a Ukrainian drone over the Bryansk region, local Gov. Aleksandr Bogomaz says in a Telegram post. He says there were no casualties.
Three drones also targeted Russia’s Belgorod region last night, with one flying through an apartment window in its namesake capital, local authorities report. Regional Gov. Vyacheslav Gladkov says the drones caused minor damage to buildings and cars but no casualties.
The hacking of Russian TV channels and radio stations as well as the temporary closure of St. Petersburg’s airport at the same time feed suspicion that Kyiv could be behind the attacks.
While Ukrainian drone strikes on the Russian border regions of Bryansk and Belgorod that lie north of Ukraine’s Sumy region are not unusual, the hits on the Krasnodar and Adygea regions further south are noteworthy.
A fire broke out at an oil depot in Russia’s Krasnodar region, which neighbors Adygea, on Monday, Russia’s state RIA Novosti agency reported. Russian Telegram channels claims that two drones exploded near the depot.
A drone also exploded overnight over Adygea, which lies some 600 kilometers (370 miles) east of Crimea, regional Gov. Murat Kumpilov says on Telegram. He says no one was hurt in the attack, which damaged some farm buildings.
Ukrainian authorities offer no immediate acknowledgement or comment on the reported strikes.
Visiting German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock says she discussed Berlin’s concerns about changes to Israel’s judiciary with counterpart Eli Cohen.
“The values that link us includes the protection of legal principles and the rule of law, like an independent judiciary,” she says alongside Cohen.
“We in Germany, the German government, are firmly convinced that a strong democracy needs an independent judiciary that can also review majority decisions,” she adds.
Cohen says Israel is a “vibrant democracy,” pointing to free speech rights and the mass protests, which are not threatened by the overhaul. He claims the “judicial reform will strengthen Israeli democracy.”
Cohen also says Israel’s support for Ukraine is clear, rebuffing complaints that Jerusalem is balancing such support against its ties with Moscow and noting the recent promises of aid and his own visit to Kyiv.
Pressed on Israel’s choices of verbiage, he says “of course we condemn the Russian aggression,” but notes Jerusalem’s “unique position.”
“We are not like your country. Russia is a pivot[al] player in our region, also in Syria. So I think we are doing the maximum in all aspects,” he says.
Baerbock also expresses support for stopping Iran’s nuclear ambitions, but says diplomacy is the only way to do so.
“Any alternative would have a devastating effect on all of us,” she says.
Cohen urges Germany to pressure the Palestinian Authority to cease payments to convicted terrorists and their families.
“The Palestinian Authority is the only place in the world where you receive a payment if you kill a Jewish guy,” he says.
He adds that Israel will not stop building in the settlements.
Military chief Herzi Halevi vows to “thoroughly investigate” riots by Israeli settlers in the West Bank town of Huwara on Sunday that followed the killing of two Israeli brothers in the area.
“The terrible, calamitous events in Huwara after the severe attack will be thoroughly investigated,” Halevi says in remarks provided by the Israel Defense Forces.
Halevi condemns several incidents of violence by settlers against Israeli troops amid the riots in Huwara and other areas of the West Bank.
The IDF chief also vows to capture the gunmen who carried out a deadly shooting attack near the West Bank city of Jericho Monday.
Halevi visits the 417th territorial brigade base in the Jordan Valley for an assessment of the attack that killed Israeli-American Elan Ganeles.
He says the army is “investigating and learning” the recent string of shooting attacks in the West Bank.
“We will thwart terror of any kind, and we will continue to use all operational and intelligence means in order to capture the terrorists,” Halevi says in remarks provided by the IDF.
Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich presents the 2023-2024 state budget, set to provide “billions” of shekels to fulfill coalition agreements, among other state priorities.
Setting out the need to fund political promises as one of the budget’s challenges, the finance minister also says the rising inflation rate and debate over public worker salary agreements complicated the budget process.
In particular, Smotrich blasts a “complicated” and hard-fought salary agreement with teachers unions, which added an NIS 4.5 billion shekel commitment to 2023.
“We accept this inheritance and we will deal with it,” he says.
On Friday, the government approved the plan, which allocates NIS 484 billion for 2023 and NIS 514 billion for 2024.
Smotrich says that he plans to bring the two-year budget for its first reading on March 27 and complete its required second and third readings the following week.
Smotrich encourages the government to rally behind the budget, setting aside brewing tensions, some tied to coalition promises and some to policy in the West Bank, the latter to which Smotrich has also contributed
Among possible roadblocks, the two ultra-Orthodox parties secured coalition promises to pass legislation enshrining military exemptions for Torah study before the budget passes.
“I hope the ministers will be responsible, and also the lawmakers” to pass the budget bill,” he says.
Elan Ganeles, an Israeli American man killed in a terrorist shooting in the West Bank Monday, will be laid to rest in Ra’anana on Wednesday at 1 p.m., Army Radio reports.
Ganeles’s parents are flying into Israel from Connecticut, where they live, for the funeral. They will return to the US to sit shiva, said David Warren, president and chief executive officer of the Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford, according to CTinsider.com.
Ganeles grew up in West Hartford, Connecticut, where his family attended the local Orthodox Young Israel synagogue a block away from their home.
Ganeles, 27, was killed Monday when a gunman shot at him on a road near the Palestinian West Bank city of Jericho.
All of the Israeli suspects detained during the riots in the West Bank town of Huwara have been released, law enforcement officials say.
Eight suspects were detained by Israeli troops and police officers on Sunday night over their alleged involvement in the rampage that saw one person killed, scores injured and dozens of Palestinian homes and cars set on fire in the town.
Six were released Monday morning, and the last two were released this morning to house arrest, Israel Police spokesman Dean Elsdunne tells The Times of Israel.
There are no other known arrests following the riots.
Additionally, Elsdunne says police have no information about officers being involved in the killing of Palestinian man Sameh Aqtash in nearby Za’tara during the rioting on Sunday night.
A military official told The Times of Israel earlier that Israeli soldiers were not involved in the shooting that killed Aqtash, 37. His family has claimed he was shot by Israeli forces.
As The Times of Israel’s political correspondent, I spend my days in the Knesset trenches, speaking with politicians and advisers to understand their plans, goals and motivations.
I'm proud of our coverage of this government's plans to overhaul the judiciary, including the political and social discontent that underpins the proposed changes and the intense public backlash against the shakeup.
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